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Association Insights from Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak

May 6, 2015

steve-wozniakAlthough we are all fans of Apple products here at The Markens Group, none of us is more passionate about the brand than President Ben Markens himself. So given the opportunity to sponsor Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to speak on May 1, we jumped on it. Although “Woz” didn’t disappoint with his candid and sometimes hilarious insights into the history of Apple, his own passions, and the future of technology, we didn’t expect his presentation to connect so closely to our own field.

Here’s what association professionals can learn from the co-founder of today’s leading technology giant.

Understand Your Members’ Passions
At a time when computers were the size of a room and cost as much as a house, a high-school aged Wozniak dreamed of having his own. So in the late 1970s he combined a simple keyboard and TV screen, developing what later came to be known as the world’s first personal computer. Even so, Woz never desired wealth or fame. And if he had never befriended classmate Steve Jobs, who recognized the value of his invention and promoted it to the world, Wozniak would have happily spent the rest of his days working as a humble computer engineer.Woz Phones 2

In this sense, your association serves people like Wozniak—members who are passionate about their professions. Your members want to make a difference in their industry, and like Jobs, it’s your duty to provide them with resources to grow and succeed. By understanding your members’ passions and motivations, you can create benefits packages that bring value to their lives and careers.

Market Relationship-Building
In the early days of Apple, Woz was strictly an inventor. He didn’t think about business, nor did he envision how his new computer could even be used (“Perhaps for storing recipes?” he mused during his presentation). In fact, without Steve Job’s vision and entrepreneurial spirit, the Apple products that we use today—from the iPad and iPhone to the iMac and iWatch—wouldn’t exist.

Try using narratives such as this to market the power of association. After all, your association brings together professionals with diverse skills and backgrounds, and among them could be the next “Jobs and Woz” superstar partnership. By emphasizing your association’s networking opportunities, you will more effectively attract new members.

Take Small Steps Toward Big Success
According to Wozniak, Apple wasn’t built with venture capital, but instead on 30-day credit. Desperately strapped for funds, Wozniak would buy computer parts on credit, build a machine in 10 days, sell it, use the profits to pay off the debt, and then repeat the process. From these small victories grew the wildly successful computer business we all know today.

Running a nonprofit, you might think you lack the resources to tackle big projects. But if you model your association after Apple and start with the resources you have available, then throw in a pinch of creativity, your small idea might just grow into the next “big thing” before you know it.

ICD9IIJmW8AE-kOynvest in Tech As a Means, Not an End
From event apps to online certifications to digital marketing tactics, new technologies have changed the way associations operate today. Even so, according to Wozniak, we really don’t want technology for technology’s sake. Rather, we want technology to be invisible, to provide value seamlessly. In other words, just because there’s a hot new platform out there doesn’t mean that it’s right for your association—especially if it is cumbersome to use. Technology is a means for delivering value to your members, and that sentiment should guide your search for—and investment in—emerging technologies.

We at The Markens Group were inspired by Steve Wozniak’s incredible story, even more so after we realized that so much of it is applicable to the world of association management. So let your association benefit from Wozniak’s success: strive to understand your members’ motivations, take small steps, and invest in technology wisely. Your members and board will thank you.

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